Root brain

Lyford & Wilson. Harvard Forest Paper No. 10. (1964)

Trees are in constant, foraging exploration through their roots. Darwin’s was a “root brain” hypothesis—a human metaphor that yet acknowledges a sort of decentralized command via the root’s tip. Or imagine instead “every organ of intentionality [in a tree] playing the role of a parallel processor.” The foraging root is thereby a device of the tree, independently cued by feedback to seek out nutrient-rich environments.

Roots are hypersensitive to context,  hyper specific to place. Soil hardness, stones, light penetration, temperature, invertebrates, distribution of water, minerals, gases…all play a role in stimulating the root tip to develop structures to recover its optimal conditions.

A tree’s placement of roots is non-random and deliberate: intentionality expressed by its growth movement toward optimal patches of nutrients, in turn expressed by “modular growth and phenotypic plasticity.” Shortening and intensification of branching structure when resources are abundant, lengthening and moderation when they are not.

Its tree intelligence becomes clear.

(Reference:  Marder, Michael. “Plant Intentionality and the Phenomenological Framework of Plant Intelligence.” Plant Signaling & Behavior 7, no. 11 (November 1, 2012): 1365–72. doi:10.4161/psb.21954.)


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